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Forest Service seeks to restore logged area on Admiralty Island

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This aerial photo shows past logging upstream of Kathleen Lake in the Cube Cove area of ​​Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska. (US Forest Service)

The US Forest Service is proposing to restore land on an island in the Tongass National Forest that has been logged for decades. The federal agency wants these 23,000 acres of developed land to match the wilderness area that surrounds it.

Cube Cove is on the northwest side of Admiralty Island. The area was heavily logged – mostly by clearcutting – in the 1980s and 90s by Shee Atiká, the Native Corporation of Sitka. The US Forest Service purchased the land for just over $18 million, close the deal in 2020. Shee Atiká had done post-logging rehabilitation work, but the Forest Service wants to finish it.

“Admiralty Island is a special and unique place, anyway,” said Marci Johnson, a wildlife and fisheries biologist with the US Forest Service. “Definitely unique features with the concentration of brown bears, eagles nests and many untouched ancient forests throughout the island.”

Prior to the federal purchase, it was the largest private land surrounded by a federal wilderness area. It has now joined this protected area, known as the Kootznoowoo Wilderness, which makes up most of Admiralty Island.

Shee Atiká did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A map showing recorded locations in the Cube Cove area
The Cube Cove area was mined in the 80s and 90s by Shee Atiká, Native Corporation of Sitka. On the map, it appears as three fingers on Admiralty Island. The US Forest Service is offering to restore the land. (US Forest Service)

Due to past logging, many roads, bridges and culverts remain. The Forest Service is proposing to remove three large steel bridges and culverts that would affect fish passage. They also want to remove or modify some of the roadbeds that might affect water flow. Johnson says there’s a run of coho salmon and trout in the creeks.

“So eventually that kind of infrastructure breaks down, and it could become a fish passage and water quality issue,” Johnson said.

The federal agency is also proposing to thin out some of the new growth trees to allow room for larger ones to grow, especially around waterways.

“When you don’t have these big trees growing around these streams, you don’t have this temperature control and you don’t have this big wooden material that ends up in the streams, it’s a good habitat for fish,” Johnson said.

There are two federally run recreational cabins on the site that welcome visitors. Johnson says the driving force behind the restoration project is to preserve the land’s wilderness now and into the future.

“Giving that wilderness experience to a visitor 300 years from now is also important,” she said.

A few years ago, a pilot project removed a large culvert from a fish-bearing stream near a local lake. It was run by the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition with help from an Angoon youth program.

A culvert being removed
This culvert in the Cube Cove area of ​​Admiralty Island was removed as part of a pilot project led by the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition with the help of a program for the young people of Angoon. (US Forest Service)

The village of Angoon is south of Cube Cove on the west shore. Its inhabitants have lived on Admiralty Island for as long as we know and live there by fishing and hunting.

“We put fish in to last the winter,” Tribal Administrator Charles James said. “We can our fish; we smoke it”,

James isn’t sure if any residents are approaching logged areas now, but he says land restoration makes sense.

“I think it would be nice for these trees and all that to grow back and all of that to come out of there,” he said.

The Forest Service plans to do more fieldwork this summer to fine-tune project details, such as the tools and equipment that will be needed. They are collect public comments on the proposal until July 22. They expect all the work to be completed within five years.

It’s unclear how much the restoration will cost and what partnerships could help fund it. But it has been identified as a priority project by the Tongass National Forest.

Here is the scope of the US Forest Service proposal.

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